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10 Surprising Books Every Teen Should Read Before They Graduate High School

They’ll read the classics in high school, but those books shouldn’t be their only required reading. Motivate your teen to read more by suggesting these off-the-grid books.

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Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

This novel tells the story of Shawn McDaniel, a 14-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. He’s highly intelligent, yet unable to move his muscles, feed himself, or communicate. Through his first-person narrative, he remains positive about his life, even when people treat him like he’s brain-damaged. This short novel forces young readers to think about the assumptions they make about people with disabilities, and also addresses euthanasia and quality of life as pertinent social issues. Want to introduce a teen to some historical fiction? Have them read the most popular book from the year you were born.

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Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

As far as non-fiction goes, Fast Food Nation is one of the most eye-opening books a teenager can read, especially because hungry teens and cash-starved college students often have a penchant for filling their bellies with cheap and quick meals. Fast Food Nation peers inside the underbelly of the fast food industry, investigating everything from the polluted slaughterhouses that supply the beef to the unsafe practices that low-paid fast food workers are exposed to behind the counter. Teens still love to read, but these are things teens did a decade ago that they don’t like anymore. 

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The Hunger Games (Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins

Set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic United States, The Hunger Games trilogy tells the story of how Katniss Everdeen fights back again the tyrannical Capitol of Panem. Each year, the Capitol sends one boy and one girl to its annual Hunger Games, where they are forced to kill or be killed. There are many reasons the trilogy appeals to teens: Katniss is a flawed, yet strong and powerful hero; its classic good-versus-evil plot is fast-paced and suspenseful; and its emphasis on friendship, family, and loyalty humanizes the story line, making it relatable for all readers. These are the 10 books everyone lies about reading.

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Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt’s New York Times bestselling memoir tells the story of his life growing up as an impoverished and deprived child in Ireland and how he overcame those circumstances. While the story is compelling, what saves McCourt through a series of tragic events are his relationships with his mother and father, siblings, neighbors, and friends. It’s a classic rags-to-riches story that not only inspires young readers to make the most of what they have, but also encourages them to persevere and overcome any odds they may face.

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The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zazlow

In 2006, when he was only 45 years old, Randy Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and learned he had only three to six months to live. One month later, the Carnegie Mellon University professor  delivered his last lecture, “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” The inspirational lecture became a YouTube sensation and within a few short months Pausch had co-authored a book of the same name. Despite his grim prognosis, the book is surprisingly uplifting; it reminds readers of the importance of chasing dreams and encourages them to focus on what’s truly important in life.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This coming-of age story has become a cult-classic because of its honest look at the lives of “everyday” teenagers. Through the eyes of 15-year-old narrator Charlie, the novel details the daily trials and tribulations that many teenagers face, but it also tackles hefty and controversial topics like drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and suicide. It also focuses on the roles that friendship, family and love play in helping us through difficult times. You’ll love these 12 brilliant books you can read in a weekend.

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is an in-depth examination of the history and current state of race relations in the United States. Written as a series of letters to the author’s 15-year-old son, Between the World and Me introduces readers to the complex societal and economic factors that affect black citizens in contemporary America. The book, which was published in 2015, became an instant best seller; renowned author Toni Morrison deemed it “required reading” for teens and adults.

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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

This gripping memoir tells the true story of Ishmael Beah, who, at the age of 12, became a boy solider for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during a civil war in Sierra Leone. Left with no options, he’s taken in by the RUF, who brainwashes him, forces him to take drugs, and watch violent action movies. By 13, he’s become the very thing he was running from: a violent, unrelenting killer. At the age of 16, UNICEF intervenes, removing Beah from the army and giving him hope for a new life. Teen readers will certainly be moved by Beah’s tale of survival, as well as his ability to overcome a tragic childhood to become an ambassador for peace. Check out these 18 books you can finish in one day.

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Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

Arguably considered one of Judy Blume’s best novels, Tiger Eyes tells the story of Davey, a 15-year-old girl whose father was murdered in a violent crime. Afterwards, Davey and her brother temporarily relocate to New Mexico to stay with relatives, where she meets new friends and learns to let go of her pain and live again. Although it was written more than 30 years ago, the novel’s themes of facing fear, handling grief, and valuing friendship are as current as ever, and will appeal to a wide swath of adolescent readers. Read these 25 bestselling books of the decade before the year is over.

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Re-read: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Chancers are your teen read this one in English class, but it’s worth a second look. The Catcher in the Rye, one of the most historically banned books, could be considered, by most accounts, the original “teen angst” novel. Protagonist Holden Caulfield is a 16-year-old disaffected and alienated young teen who flunks out of his latest boarding school for not “applying himself.” Even though it’s near the start of his holiday vacation, he’s not expected home for a few days, so he decides to take a train to New York City and stay in a hotel for a few days, where Holden finds himself grappling with a succession of adult-themed situations. Don’t miss these 20 iconic books you really should have read by now.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest